Whispers of the Past
History of Annie
History of Annie
Stories tend to start on bright days with a warm sun. Not this one. Not because it's necessarily a bad story, though it is an unhappy one, but because it's Ustalav. There's nothing bright or warm about this country. At least not right away, but I'm getting a bit ahead of myself.
My name is Annie. I'm 20, which is still a bit young for my kind, and I've been alone almost all of my life. I had parents of course, but I don't remember much about them. I remember that my mom had green eyes like I do, and my dad had a soft warm voice that always made me feel safe. Sometimes, in my dreams, I think I see their faces. It's been so long though. Is it terrible that I can't remember what they look like? I used to cry over such thoughts but it seems after a while it's easy to forget about that too.
Before you think they're dead or something, they're not. At least I don't think so. Well, my dad might be. And my mom might be as well as I think about it. But I prefer not to think about it. I prefer to think they're just missing and that if they could, they'd come back and find me.
When I was but a wee little thing, we moved from our home. I was too young to know much of where we lived at the time, just that we had to cross a lot of water to get to our new home. We ended up in the town of Thrushmore. Short story about Thrushmore? That place smells bad and the people are mean and callous.
But that's where we called home now. We moved because my dad got a job with one of the mining companies. I think it had the word "glass" in the name or something. I still think about it now and again. Anyway, he was apparently good at getting into and out of tiny places to place blast charges. We lived in some dingy room that we were renting from a mean old man. He kept saying that we had to know our place and that we had to watch out. He would say that we were lucky that someone was willing to rent a room to our thieving kind. I didn't learn what that meant until later. I didn't learn a lot of things about the world until later. Unfortunately I learned some of the darker things about the world a little too soon. Sigh.
Fairly often while my dad was at work, the man would come and take my mom away for a while. She always came back crying. Green isn't the only thing I remember about her eyes I guess.
We were there for a couple years when one day my dad just didn't come home from work. After a couple days my mom went to go find him, but the office and the mining company were both gone. No one knew where they had gone or what happened to my dad. My mom took me along for some of it. I remember that most people just dismissed her questions and cared even less about me. Seems that if you have a hard time seeing over the counter, then other folk don't think you're all that important.
Oh, I guess I should mention that I'm a Halfling. Some call us "child-folk" on account of us being so short. Others just call us dingy little thieves. I don't recall that we'd ever seen another halfling while we were there. Up until more recently, I hadn't really seen other halflings at all.
Anyway, a couple weeks went by and dad still never came back. But we had a bigger problem now; we were out of money. My mom begged the old man to let us stay, that she was looking for work and would pay him. No one would give her a job though. Still she begged with that old man. At first he seemed like he might help us. My mom would be gone more frequently. About half the time she'd come back crying. Eventually, though, the old man wouldn't hear it anymore.
He came barging into our room one day yelling about the money we owed and how worthless we were. He screamed at my mom that she was a thief trying to keep the room without paying and that we were just like all the rest of our kind. She couldn't say much. Between sobs she just asked for more time. She promised that she'd find a job.
For some reason, this next memory sticks in my head like it's been painted on the inside of my skull. The man grabbed my mom by the wrist, yelled that he had a job for her, and dragged her out of the room. I never saw her again. I was 8.
The next day, the old man came back. He had another man with him wearing robes. He said name of Korim, he was a priest of Pharasma, and that he would take care of me. I didn't like him at first. I just felt like he didn't really care and that he'd be like all the other people we'd come across. He tried to reassure me though. He said he was a half-elf so he knew what it was like to be an outsider. This reassured me a bit and I was more willing to go with him, not that I had a choice.
He took me to building that had a couple statues out front. One of was a mother and child. The other of a skeleton. The inside had a couple paintings. He told me what they meant, but I wasn't paying attention and don't really remember them anyway. At the end of the hall was a room that had several other children in it and a bunch of beds. He said that this would be where I'd be staying and that these would be my new friends.
The door closed, Korim walked away, and I tried to make some friends. It didn't work. They immediately surrounded me, started pushing me, and calling me names. They seemed like they were my age but I was much shorter than them so I couldn't really defend myself.
The next day Korim came back and took us all outside. He put us to work picking up litter and cleaning streets. This wasn't too bad, but the other kids were. They would threw stuff at me and dump the garbage on me. I tried to talk to Korim about what the other kids were doing to me but he didn't care. He just kept us cleaning, or painting, or moving things around.
I never made any friends. No one would talk to me. The priest continued to turn a blind eye to the cruelty of the other kids. Really, other than getting us in the morning and feeding us, he left us alone. After a while, I started to notice that he would collect money from people for the work that we were doing. He never gave any to us though. The other kids just ignored it when they saw it. Some of the older kids even looked like they were afraid of him though I never knew why
The only truly memorable thing was one evening after we came back, Korim told one of the older boys that he was too old now to stay here and he had to go and find his own way. He was turned out to the streets just like that. Maybe that's what the other kids were scared of. A hellish home is better than no home I guess.
Eventually things got worse. The teasing turned into shoving turned into hitting and punching. I knew I couldn't stay there. One day when we were out, I just left. No one ever watched us so it was easy. I wasn't prepared for it though.
I didn't have any bullies, but the streets weren't any easier. It rained and it was cold. The only saving grace was being a kid. I learned the good spots to bed and from my time under Korim's tender care, I knew some of the good spots to scrounge for food.
I quickly found out that there were other kids on the streets as well. Lots of them. They were just as mean as the ones at the orphanage, except there was no around that would even pretend to help. I learned how to hide and stay hidden when I didn't want to be seen. I learned how to move through crowds. I'm not proud of it, but I learned how to steal too. Like I said, I'm not proud of it, but sometimes you just need to eat.
The loneliness was the worst part though. I had no one I could talk to, no one to trust, and no one to be my friends. I had a couple good spots for hiding at night though. I was safe there. Sometimes warm. But most importantly, I was away from anyone who could hurt me. I could cry in peace.
I lived like that for years. The darkness growing thicker, the loneliness deeper. Everything was bearable except for the lack of companionship. My family was gone. The only children that I knew rejected and tormented me. Any time I tried to sate the loneliness by talking to them they would steal what food I had and threaten to hurt me if I didn't leave. The closest I got to a conversation was begging. I wanted a friend. I needed a friend.
And then one day I woke up, and curled up next to me was this cute little bear cub. I didn't know where it came from or why it was there, but there it was. It woke up a little while after I did, looked up at me, yawned, and said hi. No, it doesn't talk. Bears dont talk. It was like a whisper in my head. I said hi back and it gave me this toothy smile.
She said her name was Tibbers and she was there to be my friend. At first I was confused, then I smiled, and then I laughed. I picked her up in my arms, gave her a big hug, and for the first time in my life, I was happy. Not wanting her to get taken away, I told her to stay there and I would be right back.
I scrounged up some food and came back to my hidey hole. When I returned though, she was gone. I looked around frantically. I was about to go back outside to look for her when I turned around and there she was laying in what I had for a blanket like she'd been there the whole time. She said she was sorry for disappearing and that it happens sometimes, but she promised that she'd always be there for me. She said in time as our relationship grew, it would happen less and that I'd learn to call for her whenever. She also knew that it would be dangerous for her to be seen as people were scared of bears so she could disappear when I wanted her to as well.
Over the next year, she went from this little bear cub to a big bear. Big enough that I could ride her. And big enough that she could protect me whenever I needed it. At last, I had a true friend. We could talk almost no matter where I was or she was, we could still hear each other.
I had everything I wanted. I didn't care that I lived in the streets, that people picked on me, or that I was short. I had Tibbers.
A few more years passed, though, and I started to wonder what else there might be to life. What else I might possibly do. I had Tibbers so I was pretty happy, but I wasn't fulfilled. There had to be more than just begging and eating scraps. I started to observe people more and desired to live life more comfortably like they did. But I knew I could never have that. My dad tried and he disappeared. My mom tried and failed, and then was taken. There was nothing I could do.
Then, about a year ago, I had found my mark for the day; an old man wandering the streets. He didn't look like he was familiar with the city. He had to be new here. They were always easiest to steal from as they looked around at the unfamiliar plus no one ever really paid attention to me. I reached up to grab his purse and without looking his hand moved down and simply patted the top of mine. Then he looked down and smiled.
He followed that up with a "Hello, there." in a voice that made me think of my father. It was warm and caring. He wasn't angry at all. I suddenly felt ashamed. All the years of being told I was no good, that I was a thief like all the others, and all the torments came flooding back all at once. I wanted to deny it, but I was a thief like everyone thought. I gave him a sheepish apology and ran off into the crowds. He called after me, but I didn't stop.
I ran back to one of my hideaways and a short while later Tibbers showed up. I dug my fingers into her fur and cried. We talked all night long. All the things in this world and I was no better than the worst of it. The old man's voice echoed in my ears mingling with memories of my father. I knew my father would want something better for me if he were here. And my mother sacrificed so much to try to give me a home. And this is where I was.
I went out the next day trying to push all those feelings away. There was nothing I could do about it after all. I had reminded my whole life that I was a thief and that I didn't matter, so what could I really do. The best my parents did was get taken. If they couldn't make it, how could I.
Lost in thought I wandered the streets. Off in the distance a voice caught my attention. Was someone speaking to me? I looked up and there was the old man with the nice face from yesterday. He kneeled down smiling wide and asked if I knew where he might go for lunch. I mumbled out some pub or another I knew of that usually had good scraps.
"Excellent!" he said. "Would you like to come along?"
I was in shock. Part of me thought back to the priest who took me in only to use me for labor and ignore me. But something in this man's voice was different. I don't remember what really happened, but I found myself following him through the streets into the pub. He ordered two pork chops with lots of mash. I ate hungrily while he picked at his and asked me questions. I mumbled a few answers through cheeks filled with potatoes but didn't say much. He turned from the questions and started telling me about his daughter. He thought of her when he was about to leave for home this morning but decided to stick around for a couple days to see if he could find me again.
It didn't take me long to empty my plate. Without saying a word, he pushed his across the table to me. I kept eating while he told me more about who he was. Said his name was Professor Ackulla and that he traveled the world doing research for the school. I sat and listened to his warm voice while I ate.
When I was done he thanked me for the company but said he had to get going. He had some things to do but said I should meet him here again in 3 days. I of course told Tibbers all about it once I got home. I felt a little guilty that I didn't save some food for her, but she reminded me again that she doesn't need to eat and that it was ok.
I went back 3 days later he was there waiting just like he said. He bought me lunch again and told me more stories of his travels. I interrupted once to ask if he needed to go home to his daughter but he said not to worry, that'd he'd written her and told her he'd be a little while yet.
We met like that every couple days for about a month. As the time went on, I started telling him a little bit about my life. Eventually I told him about Tibbers. He was the first person I told. He seemed fascinated. He couldn't believe a bear could get into the city and befriend someone. As I told him more, he became more excited. I told him that she was a magic bear, that she was my friend, that we could talk to each other, and that she would show up whenever I needed her.
He said he just had to meet her. I asked Tibbers if it was ok and she agreed. When they met, Tibbers like him immediately. Said he smelled like a nice man and since he'd taken such good care of me that she thought he could be trusted. I smiled wide and hugged Tibbers tightly. It seemed like now I had two friends. Though no one could ever replace Tibbers.
Eventually it was time for Professor Ackulla to leave. He asked if I wanted to go with him. He said that Tibbers was fascinating and that he was pretty sure she was very unique. He wanted me to come back to the University with him, but I couldn't. I didn't have much, but everything I knew was here. I'd heard stories about things that were out there and it sounded better to stay in the city. I had to say no.
He said that he understood but that he hoped I would change my mind. If I reconsidered, he said that he had friends in Lepidstadt including a Halfling that owned an inn. He spent a lot of time in that city as that's where the University was that he worked for so we could see each other more often. He could even see if he could get me into the Univesity so that we could learn more together. His friend would give me a job and I would have work, food, a room, and kin. It sounded great, like it was a chance for a real future. But it was so far away.
It was many months after he left that I decided to go. If I stayed in Thrushmoor, nothing would change. I'd live a life in holes of that oppressive little town and nothing new or exciting would ever happen again. I spent a couple weeks saving what I could and tried to get some food to take with me. And then I set off.
It was a long journey. Really long. It seemed so much closer on the map. Things were rough too, but I had Tibbers. No one dared mess with me while I had her along. And she could help me hunt for food. I can tell you I'm not a fan of raw rabbit. I never did learn how to build a fire, but curling up next to Tibbers every night kept me warm. For as rough as it was though, I was seeing something new of the world. We crossed mountains and rivers. We saw castles and ruins. Eventually we made it to Lepidstadt.
I met the owner, Rillen. He was nice, and happy to see another Halfling. There weren't many around. I didn't get a chance to really get situated though. Rillen gave me a warm meal, and then told me the bad news. Professor Ackulla had died. I felt devastated. I came all this way and the second friend I ever had was gone. Rillen said the letter came that morning from his daughter. I opened it and read the words that Rillen had warned me about. I was too distraught to cry.
I spent the night at Rillen's Inn. He had been told about Tibbers so let me keep her in my room with me. It was bitter sweet to have a bed again. As good as it was I still couldn't sleep and curled up next to Tibbers instead. The next morning I told Rillen I was going to go to the funeral. He gave me some food and told me to pass along his condolences. As I was leaving, he made sure to remind me that the offer was still good. I had a job and room here if I needed it to help get me on my feet. But first, I had to say goodbye to the Professor.